I want to measure things! For science, and thrift!
October 23, 2013 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I want to measure and test things in my life (home, car, etc.) for maximum efficiency, thrift, and measuration, which is a word I just made up to combine measurements and data wankery. What measurements can I make and what fun tools do I need to buy?

So, there's the Kill-a-Watt and Belkin Conserve for measuring electric use, and the Automatic, the dongle that connects to your car's OBD port to give some driving metrics (I have an old car that doesn't compute MPG, so this would be new info, although there are some qualms with that particular product). Or just a regular OBD tester. Those would be the obvious choices.

But then there's something like a draft detector or an infrared leak detector. Or a SPL meter (I have a Radio Shack one). I'm not just looking at utility efficiency, but that's an easy application.

What are some other things I can be testing around the house and car (or work!), preferably that could result in some virtuous changes in usage or cost? I should perhaps add I'm not just looking to create a catalogue of kitchen utensils by weight, or of the diameters of condiment bottles; I'd like a useful measurement, not measurements for measurements' sake.

Notwithstanding a desire to save some money in the long term, a cool gadget (of non-extravagant cost) is welcome. Easy iOS or Apple integration a plus. (I'm renting, so I can't make invasive changes, but feel free to mention things I can take advantage of if/when we buy a place...)
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, things like the FitBit--Is there a clear winner in that space yet?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A general purpose infrared thermometer would be very useful in detecting all sorts of heat loss/waste.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used My Tracks to follow my bike riding for awhile, but I'm not sure that it's available for iOS. If you like datawankery, this could be a lot of fun.

This will not help you at all, but I currently use CloudAhoy to log flights I take. It automatically identifies different segments of the flight (taxi, takeoff, cruise, etc.) and you can tag descent segments with what instrument approach you used, which is kind of neat. Here's an example of what it looks like.

If you want to DIY it, I built a "weather" station out of an Arduino and some commercially available sensors; the idea was to track the temperature, humidity, and light levels in my office and log the data.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a really awsome Android app (sorry) called Smart Tools that turns a regular phone into a nifty sensor package. It does: Length, Angle, Slope, Level, Thread, Distance, Height, Width, Area, Compass, Metal detector, GPS, Sound level meter, Vibrometer, Magnifier. The distance and heigh ones are especially clever: they use photographic triangles to estimate height and distance.

I see that there is a similarly-named iOS app, but I'm not certain that's from the same folks, or has the same feature set.
posted by bonehead at 8:16 AM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I do not have one, but my friends rave over the data logging ability of the Nest thermostat. Reviews of the Nest seem to go both ways as far as money savings are concerned.
posted by ohjonboy at 8:22 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

For your car, rather than a discrete diagnositc reader, I'd look at a bluetooth OBD II dongle (there are piles of them on ebay---I have one like this).

Your phone, with the right software, can provide more logging and measurement options than a code reader. In the Android system (again, sorry), Torque is a ton of fun to play with. A quick seach of the iOS apps shows quite a number as well, but I have no experience with them.

This makes tracking instantaneous and long-term average consumption data easy, as well as other engine stressors like oil temperature and rpm values. Consumption and wear data together---very convenient.
posted by bonehead at 8:23 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you need to buy yerself a Sensordrone, hoss (and then tell us how it works!... I'm intrigued by it, just not enough to buy one).
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:32 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, this is a topic I love but don't do that much of because it turns out to be a *lot* of work for usually not that much reward.

A lot of things take a while to do, like figuring out how much burning wood saves you in gas costs and whether the cost of the wood makes up for it or not. You have to do at least a month of wood and a month of no wood to get *any* data, and it's probably not very good since it's affected by outside temperature.

Here are things that are interesting to try, but the required equipment/procedure is left to the reader:
cost/time to dry clothes in a dryer versus on a clothesline. Will vary seasonally.
Any sort of gasoline usage metrics for the car and whether certain driving techniques affect it.
How to measure the number of calories you burn while exercising
How to measure the amount of calories in food you consume. Particularly alcohol, which isn't labelled with this info.
How to objectively measure the security of your house against a break-in/burglary. How does this vary if you're home or not.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:32 AM on October 23, 2013

Be sure if you get a fitbit type thing you get one that gives you access to raw data. Many of them do not.

Calorie counting is a great form of data wankery. I've often wanted to correlate it with my grocery bills but never get around to it. It would also be fun to measure it along with emotional or health metrics. I remember seeing an animation of a human silhouette where someone had logged all their aches and pains over a year and displayed them using processing. I think it would be fun to do that along with a weight lifting program with body measurements as well.
posted by srboisvert at 8:34 AM on October 23, 2013

Boston Water and Sewer has remote-read meters, and apparently you can log in and view daily usage, without having to buy meter-logging equipment of your own.
posted by aimedwander at 8:36 AM on October 23, 2013

Automatic has just announced a super fancy OBD II datalogger for iOS. My first reaction is that it's very expensive for what it does, but also more capable than a lot of similar software.
posted by bonehead at 9:16 AM on October 23, 2013

Home blood glucose meters, normally used by people with diabetes, are quite affordable at this point. Blood glucose levels vary during the day even for people without diabetes, so that might be interesting to examine.
posted by XMLicious at 10:12 AM on October 23, 2013

This question inspired me to do a little light googling to measure water coming into (and maybe out of, but.... that might be a bit gross) my boat (which is also my home).

I found this thread and I think I will go and build one.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:31 AM on October 23, 2013

Download Moves if you have a smartphone (Android/iOS). It's been a great Fitbit replacement for me; impressively accurate and so great not to have another device to lose. Another fun measuration 'tool' for your smartphone is FourSquare, which can be social if you want it to be, but I mostly use it for keeping track of where I am when (sort of overlaps with Moves...actually, they integrate!).

I've got those measuration cravings!
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:45 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you need to measure actual things? How about measuring some finances? I like iBank, which makes attractive graphs so I can see just how much I spend on groceries, etc. We pay for almost everything with credit cards, so it's easy for me to download the statements straight into iBank and make reports. Finding out how much was being spent on vending machines at work by a certain member of my household was... interesting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:28 AM on October 23, 2013

Air quality meter might be useful if you have any kind of respiratory problems--basically measures the number of particles in the air. If you have a HEPA air filter, you can test whether it's working as claimed.
posted by scalespace at 2:47 PM on October 23, 2013

Amprobe AM-160 digital multi-meter with datalogging software. $300 or so. In terms of bang for buck, it's my current fave device. Needs two thermocouple probes and the PC interface. Super, super handy.

If I had unlimited funds, I'd buy a thermal imaging camera. $5-15k. Allows you to see things you cannot even imagine. go visit a local fire department and get a fireman to show you what they can do.

Good stereo microscope. Not strictly measurement oriented, but mine gets a lot of work. Not a high power one... 2-10x is way good enough.

cheap micrcometer/calibers for small item measurement. $50.

i am an outlier, but have a ton of equipment (mostly electrical engineering stuff). the items above (other than the thermal imaging camera) have saved me a ton of money. make a note of my user name. if you want to measure something in the future, shoot a memail and i'll suggest an approach.
posted by FauxScot at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Atomic Clocks are surprisingly cheap, you could adjust all your clock to absurd precision.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:36 PM on October 23, 2013

measuration, which is a word I just made up to combine measurements and data wankery

FYI: mensuration - The branch of mathematics that deals with measurement, especially the derivation and use of algebraic formulae to measure the areas, volumes and different parameters of geometric figures.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:01 PM on October 23, 2013

Good stereo microscope. Not strictly measurement oriented, but mine gets a lot of work. Not a high power one... 2-10x is way good enough.

USB ones are really fun to play with. A Celestron or a Veho VMS-4 can be had for under $50. Seeing images on 24" screens is really a game changer. Lighting can be a bit of an inssue with them, but a good flashlight can help compensate.
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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